Over the last 10 years, the Cherokee County School District has lost $147 million in funding it's owed by the state under the Quality Basic Education formula. And, this year, the school system is expected to lose another $26.5 million.
"We're not talking about chopped liver here," Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo said during a work session with the Board of Education on Thursday evening. "This is not small change. And, if it's $26.5 million here, you can imagine what it is state-wide."
The QBE formula was created in 1985 as a way to solve the problem of inequality between rich and poor school districts following lawsuits filed in California and Texas.
"You still get to supplement a kid's education with local dollars but you don't have the problem where the rich kids have three times the amount of funding as the poor kids," Petruzielo said.
However, over the last 10 years, Petruzielo said state lawmakers have viewed QBE funding as "optional" as reductions in the dollars owed to local school systems -- called austerity cuts -- have occurred.
The state also has cut the money it sends to school systems for projects and other expenses. For example, Cherokee County schools get $2 million a year from the state for transportation, an expense that costs the district $17 million each year.
And, the school system gets only $8 million a year from the state for capital outlay projects, which Petruzielo said is enough to build one elementary school every three years. That's why the Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is so important, the superintendent said.
"If we didn't build all the schools we have here, you'd have 4,000 kids in your high schools and 3,000 in your elementary schools," he said. "We'd be the trailer capitol of the world."
And, in addition to that, Cherokee County's digest has declined $30 million since 2008-2009 because of the economic downturn.
"The only way to deal with this crisis is to receive state dollars," Petruzielo said.
In the past 20 years, three different state study commissions were formed by Georgia governors and legislators to evaluate and reformulate the QBE formula, but no significant changes were recommended or implemented, Petruzielo said.
"It's almost laughable when this happens," the superintendent said.
In 2010, the State Education Finance Study Commission wrote in a summary report to the Governor that "QBE is a valid and appropriate vehicle for funding schools."
"I'm pretty sure that's not what the Governor wanted to hear," Petruzielo said.
And, now school system officials are looking at a new funding issue. If the fiscal cliff occurs, Petruzielo said the state will lose $38.8 million in Title 1 funding and $26.6 million in special needs dollars.
Locally, that amounts to $300,000 in lost money for every 5,000 students for a total of $2.4 million. These areas are where money is needed the most, Petruzielo said.
"These are the kids who are at risk," he said. "These are the kids who are farthest away from the target. These are the kids who need the most help."
Petruzielo said he thinks a lawsuit against the state regarding QBE funding is inevitable.
"I think it's just a matter of who's going to do it and when," he said. "Until the economy comes back, I think we have to work as cooperatively as we can."